Impact of Nutritional Status on Cognition in Institutionalized Orphans: A Pilot Study

J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Mar;11(3):CC01-CC04. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2017/22181.9383. Epub 2017 Mar 1.


Introduction: Proper nutrition is critical for maximizing brain function and enhancing learning. There is accumulating evidence that early malnutrition, marked by stunting, is associated with long-term deficits in cognitive and academic performance, even when social and psychological differences are controlled. All over the world, children living without permanent parental care are at a heightened risk for under-nutrition, putting their health and development in great jeopardy.

Aim: To assess the nutritional and cognitive status in institutionalized orphans which might help to formulate effective interventions for improving the nutritional status of vulnerable children in future.

Materials and methods: This cross-sectional, study included 70 children (35 orphans and 35 non-orphans). Their anthropometric measurements (height, weight, and BMI) were measured and cognition was assessed using subsets of Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R): Block design and Digit span. The data obtained was subjected to descriptive statistical analysis.

Results: 18.57% (13) of children had stunting, 15.71% (11) had wasting, 22.86% (16) were underweight, and 17.14% (12) showed thinness. Mean±SD of Block design in non-orphans was significantly higher compared to orphans (p-value 0·05). Mean±SD of Digit span in non-orphans was significantly higher compared to orphans (p-value 0·000). For Block design, there was moderate positive correlation with nutritional status based on Z-scores (p-value <0·05). Digit span also showed moderate positive correlation (p-value <0·05).

Conclusion: The results of our study indicate that children in orphanages have high rates of both malnutrition and cognitive delay compared to the non-orphans and there was a direct correlation between both the variables. If orphanages are here to stay as a last resort for children deprived of a family there is an urgent need to improve the institutional environment in order to foster the development of millions of children in orphanages around the world.

Keywords: Block design; Digit span; Nutrition; Z-scores.